Loving God when You’re Chronically Ill

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I think one of the biggest challenges in maintaining faith in God is the existence of suffering. While the Church has some great things to say about suffering and you may be able to recognize logically that the existence of suffering, for example, a chronic illness, doesn’t mean God isn’t there, it can be hard to stay positive and hold onto those promises when you’re lying in bed instead of hanging out with friends or you have to cancel plans for the 5th time in a row because you just can’t get your body to do what it is supposed to.

When I got diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (a more slowly progressing version of type 1 diabetes), the main thing that helped me come to terms with my disease (and continues to carry me through) is my relationship with God. The relationship can get pretty rocky, but I have found some things that get me through. I do want to give a disclaimer: this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some of these practices will work great, and others will make you want to punch me in the face. They also don’t always help in a tangible way, but any time spent with God to work through suffering will be fruitful.

1) Talk to God

There are so many great prayers for trusting God’s will and for help through suffering, but sometimes, you just need to be honest and express your frustration. God knows your heart, and it is ok to admit how weak you feel. Express your frustrations and dissatisfactions. Pray for strength and understanding, and sit in silence to listen to Him.

God knows your heart, and it is ok to admit how weak you feel. Click To Tweet

2) Partake in the sacraments

Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all interrelated. Having a chronic illness affects our physical health (obviously) and can be mentally and emotionally draining. There is only so much in your control that you can do to manage those factors, but I have found that strengthening your spiritual health can at least make dealing with weakness in other health areas a little easier. As Catholics, we are incredibly blessed to have the Eucharist and Confession. Confession can help provide spiritual healing, and the Eucharist gives us strength.

3) Cherry-pick helpful scripture verses

In any other situation, I would very strongly advise against doing this; reading the Bible requires very careful reading, and it is so wrong to pick and choose verses to shape dogma or determine moral teachings. However, the Bible is your connection to God, and if there is a verse that gives you strength in dealing with your illness, embrace it! Pray with it. Meditate on it. God’s word feeds our spirit; allow yourself to be fed.

God’s word feeds our spirit; allow yourself to be fed. Click To Tweet

4) Offer it up

I give this advice very carefully and recognize this is not the answer for everyone, but it has helped me. It’s easy to fall into despair with a chronic illness, and suffering is naturally part of it. Unfortunately for me, the struggles I’ve experienced have caused me to fall into sin. As I was discussing this during confession, my priest brought up the idea of offering that suffering up for someone. Offering a bad diabetes day up doesn’t make me feel better physically, but it gives it meaning, namely that my hurt could be helping someone.

5) Look at others

The examples of many saints and holy people, especially ones who knew how to suffer well, are a blessing to us. While it is unrealistic to expect every person to be able to crack a joke while being cooked alive like St. Lawrence or sing praises like the partially beheaded St. Cecilia, looking at models who held their faith even in the most difficult situations can inspire us. Finding a holy person we can relate to can guide us towards holiness through the challenges we face.

6) Your body is still a temple

Our bodies, broken though they may be, are still temples of the Holy Spirit. A church isn’t less holy if the floors creak or there is a draft, and you aren’t less holy because your immune system decided to attack your body or because your shoulder refuses to stay in its socket. Remembering that intimate connection we have with God  is important when we want to curse our bodies for failing. While remembering this won’t heal us, it can help us accept it better.

Our bodies, broken though they may be, are still temples of the Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet

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The unfortunate reality of human existence is that there will be suffering, and those with chronic illnesses are even more aware of it. However, we can either get mad at God, or we can ask Him for help and trust in the promise He gave us for freedom from suffering after death.

How do you keep your faith, or even strengthen it, in times of suffering?

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Comments 6

  • Your courage is inspiring and the strength that you gather from the Lord amazing. God bless.

  • Hmm. I have long-running (20 yrs + and not counting) pain after an assault. I have tried all sorts of therapies from surgery to acupuncture. After being told by one expert that he sees plenty of people like me who ‘by all we know should not have pain after so much time’ and he could do no more, I just have to carry the cross and get on with life.
    I would add to your list something like ‘count your blessings’. It ought to be part of anyone’s examination of conscience at day’s end or whenever to find at least one blessing, however small, to be grateful for. There is always something. My daughter’s eyes alighted on the snowdrops outside our front door when she visited today: her delight was mine.
    There was a man offering ‘prayer for healing’ invitation cards in town this morning. I was not up for a theological discussion at the time. but would healing mean taking away the pain or transforming it? I think I have to accept the latter possibility.

    • I love your recommendation of counting blessings!

      I think your comment about prayers for healing is interesting. While I think it is possible God could heal us (and I have heard about some miraculous hearings), I do think that more often, those prayers for healing are transformative to help us get through this broken world. As difficult as it is, we have to trust that God’s answer to those prayers is the best answer, even if it means continuing to suffer.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! God bless you!

  • […] wrong question. I know now that my questions should be “how can God guide me through this,” “how can I stay connected to God,” and “how can this suffering sanctify […]

  • I am just learning.

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